A few years ago when I created an alphabetical list of positive character traits that I wanted to foster in my son, the first idea for U that popped into my head was understanding. Understanding, accepting, and prejudice-free. I recently heard the phrase “embrace race” and it conjures up for me all of those qualities. Can you imagine how different things would be if all children were raised to be this way?
In a world where war between different cultures, and racism and intolerance within our own, is an ever-present condition, how can we raise our children to be free from racism and prejudice? How can we teach them to not only accept, but to value, diversity?
Read on to find 10 ways to raise open-minded, understanding and prejudice-free kids and to get some resources to help you discuss these issues with your children.
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A Taste of Racism
When I was in high school, my best friend Japneet*, whose family was from India, endured regular racist comments from schoolmates. I remember being horrified as I sat beside her one day in Biology class when a boy in front of us turned around and in the process of telling us to be quiet, he threw the word “Paki” at her. I also clearly remember the instant rage and disgust that bubbled up within me in response to that slur.
*Name changed to protect privacy.
As a little girl, I clearly remember my Dad telling me one day, while watching a TV show where there was racial stereotyping, that “We are all the same inside, no matter what we look like.” It might have been due to the intensity with which he said it, but that statement really clung to my heart and became my truth. And so I grew up, as a white girl in a predominantly white community, never really thinking too much about the colour of some of my friends. We were all different and that was okay with me. It never really crossed my mind that other people might think very differently. Until that highschool Biology class with Japneet.
After that experience, I felt compelled to do something to dispel the ignorance that existed in our school. At that time in the early ’90s, there was little in place to support students who were experiencing racism, in fact there was very little talk of it at all. So after much discussion, Japneet and I started up a group at school that we called A.R.M.A.C. for the Anti-Racism and Multicultural Awareness Committee.
Our group was small, and our first school-wide activities were mere drops in the bucket, but the first ARMAC members learned a lot from our discussions, and surprisingly to myself, so did I.
After we were put in touch with a community-based anti-racism council in the nearest city, I first learned about white privilege and how we all have biases shaped by our culture, no matter what we’ve been taught to believe.
I also remember being deeply ashamed when during one of the council’s awareness training workshops, I came face to face with some of my own unconsciously held negative stereotypes. Who was I to be leading an anti-racism committee while clearly still being capable of having these thoughts? It was an alarming and upsetting realization.
What I didn’t know at that point in time, is something I understand much better now. We all have biases. We all have tendencies to fear the unknown and cling to what is familiar. It’s human nature.
The solution lies in becoming aware of those fears, aware of those biases, and aware of how our minds can shape and drive our actions or inaction.
Understanding this helps me make sense of why racism exists and helps me to remain hopeful in the face of hate, brutality, and injustice. Because fear can be conquered, and thoughts can be challenged, and hate can be turned into love.
But only with compassion…and education…and action.
Light the candle
Sometimes even thinking about how to begin solving the problem of racism can be overwhelming. I think that the simplest, and most powerful, way to start making change is to address these issues with our children, and ourselves.
It may not feel doable right now to go out and protest amidst Covid19. It may even seem hopeless, or scary, or futile. But it is doable to talk to our kids, to have conversations, to read books, to start thinking about how we can actively combat racism in our small piece of the world.
Every candle that is lit can go on to start a roaring fire. Let’s light the match together.
10 Ways to Raise Kids who Embrace Race
1. Shine the light on yourself
If our goal is to raise kids who are anti-racist, we would do well to examine our own attitudes and prejudices first.
If you are white and are not sure what your biases might be, or if you think you do not have any, I strongly recommend reading this article to help you understand the difference between passive and active racism and how little our good intentions have to do with the matter.
I was also truly inspired and enlightened by watching the Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man video series with the compelling and articulate Emmanuel Acho. His third episode directly addresses how to talk with children about race. But all of the episodes so far have been incredible.
This is not about shaming, or labelling, or judging. After all, our minds create our biases without our consent or even awareness. Instead, it’s about shining the light of consciousness on our blindspots and facing the truth that’s there, so that we can be the best teachers possible.
2. Voice your beliefs
Going one step beyond awareness, we must ask ourselves if we are stating out loud our beliefs that all people deserve respect – even when they differ from us? Are we showing our kids with our actions and our words, that we not only tolerate and accept, but actually value diversity?
If not, how can we do that more often?
Could it be done while watching TV when a program broaches the subject? Could it be done while reading a book about acceptance? Could it be done while discussing how a friend was treated at school?
Start looking for those opportunities. Express thoughts of acceptance and inclusion out loud and often for your child to hear. Let them know deep in their bones that you value and accept all others, and your voice will become their inner voice with time. Like my father’s voice did for me.
Here is great book called Accept and Value Each Person which could be used as a place to start having a conversation.
3. Actively learn with your kids about diverse cultures
Another way to help fight ignorance is to learn about different cultures together with your child. If you grew up in a predominantly white community like I did, and are still there, then you may just need to look a little harder to find opportunities to expose your children to diversity. Think of it as an adventure!
Here are some ideas to consider exploring…
- Have fun learning about holidays that are celebrated by other cultures and religions.
- Try sampling or even making foods from different world cultures.
- Expose your child to a variety of music.
- Plan a day trip to explore a neighbourhood with shops and restaurants from a different culture.
- Attend cultural events like parades, festivals, theatre performances, art exhibits and dance shows.
- Build relationships with people of all colours and races.
One of my all-time favourite picture books that highlights the wonderful differences in human cultures around the world is People by Peter Spier.
I read it every year to my students to let them know how much I value diversity in my classroom. Its pictures are highly appealing to kids and it really emphasizes how diverse our beautiful world is, from the way we look, to the places we call home, to the things we celebrate and love!
I also love this cartoon by author and artist, Elise Gravel and I think it’s a great tool to share with kids to spark discussion. Click on the image below to go to Elise’s website to get a free downloadable copy.
4. Consume media with awareness
Without conscious awareness of what our kids are consuming through television, video games, music and books, we run the risk of them absorbing biases and forming negative or unhelpful stereotypes without us even knowing.
There are many great TV programs out there that propagate awareness and acceptance – and countless others that reinforce negative stereotypes. Choose wisely, and diversely, for your kids.
As a parent, I’ve decided that even shows that tend to glorify violence or notions of “good” and “bad guys” are not welcome in my home just for the reason that they can model a way of thinking about the world that is unhelpful for encouraging peace. These kinds of programs can teach children to label and judge others, instead of learning to empathize, see different viewpoints, and resolve conflicts in peaceful ways.
Making wise choices
On the other hand, media can be an incredibly powerful tool for helping kids to become accepting when well-chosen and curated.
Reading books to our children in particular, is such a powerful way of conveying our values to them. They can offer an easy way into difficult conversations that might not happen otherwise.
To make good choices, be sure to choose books that portray different races, cultures, religions, and types of families in a positive light. Watch out for books with stereotypes or those that over-simplify matters. Include stories of people overcoming injustice as well as those that portray everyday life in a positive light.
Trust your gut around what topics are appropriate for your child based on their age and understanding.
A terrific book for helping young children to acknowledge and value differences while finding similarities is I’m Like You, You’re Like Me by Cindy Gainer. I love how this book includes kids of different races, religions, and abilities. Recommended for ages 4 to 7.
5. Teach kids about universal needs
In the same way that trees have a need for sunlight, soil and water in order to grow, people have needs that must be met in order to grow and more importantly, to thrive. And these needs are universal. They are commonly shared between all members of humanity, regardless of race.
Encouraging our kids to see through this lens of human needs is a way to help them make sense of people’s actions, as well as develop compassion and acceptance for all others.
What are these needs?
Once we get beyond the basics that allow us to exist in a state of physical health such as food, water, shelter, safety, and nurturance, some of the most critical needs are those that sustain our hope and sense of well-being.
These are needs such as freedom from fear, the ability to choose how to live one’s life, and the needs for love, acceptance, connection, and respect.
Beginning to teach needs
Kids can learn from a young age that feelings are a direct result of the state of a person’s needs. If needs are unmet, then a person may experience fear, sadness, frustration or anger. When needs are met, people feel happy, satisfied, and peaceful.
It can be very simple to start teaching children about needs by helping them to identify when they themselves are experiencing positive or negative feelings, and then asking them to connect those to a need that is met or unmet.
For example, when my son appears frustrated that his screen time is done for the day, I can say something like, “You look super frustrated that screen time is done today. I know how much you enjoy it and how it helps meet your needs for fun and rest.”
Conversely, when he’s obviously excited about an upcoming chance to play with a friend I can say something like, “You seem so excited today! I can tell you’re really looking forward to connecting with Joey!”
The connection between violence and unmet needs
Our needs drive all of us to say and do the things we do. Sometimes we find ways to meet our needs that are helpful to others. Sometimes our actions harm others in the process. This is the root of all conflict.
Marshall Rosenberg, an incredible peacemaker, author, and activist, used to say that all instances of hatred or violence were “tragic expressions of unmet needs.”
Through this lens, we can now see that those who engage in acts of violence, or discrimination, are either desperately trying to get unmet needs met, or are getting their needs met at the expense of others getting their needs met for peace and respect.
When I look at life in this way, I find that I am able to experience sadness, as well as compassion and understanding for both the aggressors and the casualties of these harmful actions.
Driving out darkness…with love
How do we use a language of needs to help our kids understand and fight racism? We educate our children to see the unmet needs of both the oppressors and the oppressed.
Only in this way, can we stop the cycle of fear and hate in its tracks.
When our children witness people making choices that are harmful to others, such as acts of hate, or racism, we help our kids (and ourselves) to refrain from judging and propagating hate and fear in return, and instead ask them to consider what feelings and unmet needs may have led a person to act that way? Such as fear caused by misguided attempts to meet needs for power, safety, or control.
And then extend compassion and understanding to them.
When our children see people suffering due to the harmful actions of others, we can help our kids to recognize their pain and consider what needs of the oppressed person are going unmet, such as respect, peace, and safety.
And then extend compassion and support to them.
If our children (or ourselves) are suffering due to the harmful actions of others, we can help them to recognize and validate their own pain as a result of unmet needs for respect, love, and peace.
And then extend compassion and love to ourselves.
In this way, we can teach our children a language of non-judgmental love and understanding that can begin to extend into compassion for all others. In my opinion, it’s the only way to help heal many of the wounds of discrimination and racism, for both the oppressor and the oppressed.
To learn more about this way of viewing others’ needs, I strongly recommend the book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall Rosenberg.
A terrific book about non-violent communication for kids ages 7 to 12 is Giraffe Juice: The Magic of Making Life Wonderful.
6. Teach children about the rights we all share
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was created in recognition that we all benefit when every member of humanity gets their needs met through having their rights protected.
Learning about the declaration often helps inspire children to see the injustices that exist in our world when people do not have access to these rights due to their race, gender, or religion.
Amnesty International’s book We Are All Born Free: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Pictures highlights each one of the 30 rights and is beautifully illustrated by a different artist. Recommended for children ages 6 to 14.
My favourite part is the ending where after listing the different rights that we all should have, it states:
We have a duty to other people, and we should protect their rights and freedoms.
7. Fill your kids up with love and respect
Although this may seem a little irrelevant to our topic, I believe the way we raise our kids has an enormous impact on the kind of people they will become, and how they will come to treat others.
The more respectfully we treat our children from a very young age, the more respectful they grow to be of others. The more we empathize and connect with them, the more they develop the ability to put themselves in another’s shoes.
In my family, we decided to raise our son without rewards or punishment as a means to this end. Read more about the reasoning and research behind this choice in the post Loving Our Kids Unconditionally. Click on the image below for a free, printable version of my positive parenting creed.
8. Discuss racism, bias, and prejudice
Talk, talk, talk with your kids about prejudice, racism, and inclusion. Kids can begin to understand these concepts from a very young age.
Use the words, teach children their meaning, point out examples of these ideas, and share your thoughts and values around these topics.
- Find a kid-friendly definition of racism here along with other helpful terms like ally, bias, discrimination and stereotype.
- Learn what stages kids go through in beginning to notice differences among peers and identify with their own culture (it’s younger than you probably think!), as well as an amazingly simple activity to do with young children to help stimulate discussions around race.
- Visit the EmbraceRace website to find resources like articles, webinars, personal stories, book lists and more to educate yourself and your kids.
- Read more ways that parents like you teach their kids to tackle racism.
A powerful picture book to explore some of these ideas with young children is The Stone Thrower by Jael Ealey Richardson.
It tells the true story of legendary football quarterback Chuck Ealey, and his rise out of the segregated neighbourhoods of his Ohio hometown, to a life of hope and freedom to follow his dreams in the Canadian Football League. Highly recommended for kids aged 4 and up.
9. Teach kids that we are all connected
When kids learn about the shared needs and rights of humanity, and then learn how certain groups have not had consistent access to these rights, they often naturally develop an understanding of how we are all connected.
They begin to learn that when part of our community is hurting, we are all hurting. When some of us are suffering, we all suffer.
They also begin to learn that the actions we each take can also hurt or help all of us. That’s why it’s important that we try to teach our kids to make good choices for meeting their needs that also consider the effect on others.
A beautiful book for stimulating discussion around this idea is The Invisible Web: A Story Celebrating Love and Universal Connection.
10. Encourage kids to speak up about injustice
One of the most powerful things we can do is to teach kids to speak up and use their voice if they see injustice. In too many cases, when we are witness to acts of hated or violence, we remain quiet out of fear. And for every violent act unchallenged, there are thousands more awkwardly ignored jokes, slurs, or snubs.
When unchallenged, these acts are essentially condoned. That is why we can no longer remain silent and why it is not enough to raise our kids to be free from racism. Instead, we must raise them to be anti-racist.
We must teach our kids to stand up and make some noise. When they are suffering, when they witness someone else’s suffering, or when they witness someone doing harm.
That may look like teaching them to speak up when peers make off-side jokes. It may mean teaching them to let a trusted adult know when they witness discrimination. It may mean posting a sign in your window showing your support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Regardless of the way it’s expressed, our kids need to hear the message that it’s critical to speak up somehow in a safe way to make change happen.
Please print off a free copy of my book “Peace Is…” to get your child thinking about things they can do to create peace. Just click the image below to download your copy.
For a printable version of the poster below, click on the image to download.
Please share this post to help light the fire to raise a new generation of kids who embrace race. And together we shall overcome!
Want to keep following my alphabetic journey? Visit the Character Series page to find all the posts.